It could be said that D&D Studios was to east coast hip-hop in the nineties what Hitsville USA was to Motown in the sixties and seventies. Founded by Douglas Grama and David Lotwin (hence the studio’s name), the New York City based studio would become the recording home for some of hip-hop’s greatest producers and produce several classic records by Black Moon, Gang Starr, Nas, Jay-Z and Biggie, just to name a few. To celebrate the studio’s legendariness, the powers that be thought it would be a good idea to release a compilation album matching some of hip-hop’s “phattest producers” with some of the “hottest new MCs” (that’s what the sticker on the album cover reads). The album would be released on Arista, and simply be titled: The D&D Project.
The lead single from The D&D Project made some underground noise, but to no one’s surprise, the album wasn’t a commercial success, though it did receive positive reviews from the critics. I don’t think I bought The D&D Project back in the day, but I’m sure a buddy of mine bought it and I listened to it through him. A few years ago, I found a used cd copy for a dollar at one of the music stores I frequent, but haven’t listened to until now. The only thing I remember about The D&D Project from back in the day is the lead single.
Hopefully that doesn’t mean the album was so garbage that I subconsciously blocked it out of my memory.
1,2 Pass It – The first song of the evening was also the lead single and features the D&D All-Stars (Mad Lion, Doug E Fresh, KRS-One, Fat Joe, Smif N Wessun and Jeru The Damaja) rhyming over some dope Premo produced boom bap. KRS-One easily shines the brightest on this one, displaying the skills that make him one of the greatest to ever do it.
Look Alive – Representin’ Jersey, Big C gets a chance to shine, as she spits over a solid Diamond D backdrop. She doesn’t sound bad, but I’d have to hear more material to get a better feel of how good she really is. Side note: She gives a shout out to “Ali and A Tribe Called Quest” in the liner notes (Tribe Degrees of Separation: check).
Act Up – Da Beatminerz produce this dusty moody groove for new comer, Ill Breed to flex his grimy style over. Ill Breed does a decent job on the mic, but Da Beatminerz dope backdrop is the true star of this one.
Da Good Die Young – N-Tense raps about dying young and invites his friend, Big Rallo, to chime in on the subject as well. Apparently, the instrumental (which is credited to a Tom Kuhns and a co-production credit going to Kurtis Small) was mixed by Dres (from Black Sheep), which is why his name appears across the front of the album artwork. All in all, this was decent.
Stone To The Bone – Big Jaz, who some of you may know as Jaz-O and Jay-Z’s former mentor (the guy responsible for Hov’s “Hawaiian Sophie” fame that Nas mentioned in “Ether”) gets a solo joint. Groovy Lou builds the slick backdrop around an ill jazzy piano loop (although, Showbiz is credited for remixing it, so I don’t know who actually made this version) that Jaz uses to spill his slick street rhymes over. Jaz reminds me a lot of how Jay-Z sounded during his Reasonable Doubt days. This is a hidden gem that just might be the strongest song on The D&D Project.
From Within Out – Guru (RIP) hooks up a decent instrumental and introduces the world to Fabidden Fruit. Similar to Guru, Fabidden Fruit has a monotone flow, but with a raspy twist, as if he smoked two packs of Newports before the session. The song could use a better mix, as the music almost drowns out Fabidden Fruit’s vocal, but the dude can actually spit.
Get Up – DJ Mark the 45 King cooks up a solid jazz-tinged bop for the Maniac Mob to wild out over. This one sounds better every time I listen to it.
Just A Little Flava – Nikki Nikole loops up Isaac Hayes’ classic record “The Look Of Love” for the two man crew, II Unorthodox (Sid and Chase) to spit on and live up to their name. Over the course of three verses the duo manages to rap like babies, share their best Sammy Davis Jr. impersonation, rap underwater, imitate Snagglepuss, rhyme in Japanese, rap through a sneeze attack and mimic Freddy Krueger. What just happened here? I don’t mind a little animation in my rap, but these dudes would make Humpty Hump blush. More importantly, how do you sample this Isaac Hayes record and not include the stabbing horn break (dun! dun!) in the song, Nikki? Everything about this song left me scratching my head.
Blowin’ Up The Spot – After rockin’ the shit out of the opening track “1,2 Pass It”, KRS-One returns to get his only production credit on The D&D Project. Unfortunately, his instrumental isn’t nearly as dope as his verse was on the opening song. And to add insult to injury, the rapper, Ill Will is godawful. He kind of sounds like Rev Run mixed with Sonny Seeza (from Onyx). Wait…did he really just force “yo” to rhyme with “gold”?
Rude Boy – I like O.E.’s instrumental (which according to the liner notes was mixed by Funk Master Flex), but I’m not a fan of the Night Dwellers’ (Rock and Gusto) manufactured Onyx energy mixed with drab dancehall vibes.
Nine Inches Hard – Rookie female emcee, Juice, gets a joint on The D&D Project. T.R. Love aka Da Funk Ignitor (and one-fourth of Ultramagnetic MCs) gets credit for the smooth backdrop that Juice uses to compare her 9mm to a cock. And I’ll tell ya: guns have never sounded so sexy.
Mental Illness – The final song of the evening goes to a duo called 2 Mental (Bad News and Fatal), which I have to give props to for the clever play on words in the song title. The two man crew turn in slightly entertaining psychopathic plagued verses over a solid jazzy Latin-tinged instrumental, courtesy of Louie “Phat Kat” Vega. And with that, we’re done.
The D&D All-Stars (specifically, KRS-One and Jeru) set the bar pretty high on The D&D Project’s opening track. And while that greatness is never match again on the album (with the exception of “Stone To The Bone”), it still ends up being a fairly entertaining listen. Most of the producers turn in quality instrumentals and the young apprentice emcees match them with their bars. Like most albums, there are a few bumps in the road on The D&D Project (i.e. “Just A Little Flava”, “Blowin’ Up The Spot” and “Rude Boy”), but the good far outweighs the bad. This album definitely exceeded my expectation.